In 1987, Clive Barker delivered a genuinely unique film in Hellraiser. The movie, based on Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, presented something unusual in an era of horror that was otherwise almost strictly about the hack and slash of it all. Instead, Hellraiser was much more cerebral, employing sex and violence in a wholly original fashion. The film was successful and quickly cemented itself as a classic of the genre. Thus, as happens it quickly spawned a sequel the following year, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Following that, two more theatrically released sequels graced the silver screen in the 90s. All of these films are of decent quality at the very least. After those entries, the franchise went quiet for several years. That is until Dimension Films decided to give the property a new home as a direct-to-video series. Over the past eighteen years, five more Hellraiser films were sent straight to the retail shelves and digital platforms. All of them with a common thread. These five movies were based on original scripts that the studio bought and then reworked to include the character of Pinhead and occasionally the actual mythology of the franchise.
The series had been on ice since the release of Hellraiser: Revelations (2011). During that time, there was an idea to do something new with the franchise. Well, as “different” as a remake can be anyway. The remake which was penned by Barker never saw the light of day, and I’d wager probably never will. By 2015, The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films needed to get a new film into production, in order to retain the franchise rights. Not that such is the best reason to produce a picture, as evidenced by the Children of the Corn sequels released by the same studio. Eventually, the job was given to FX artist and screenwriter, Gary J.Tunnicliffe, who had also written the franchise’s previous installment. Furthermore, he had also done effects for several of the direct-to-video sequels. Thankfully, Tunnicliffe wanted to do something different with the ninth Hellraiser flick while also bringing it back to the franchise’s roots. Moreover, the writer/director wanted to make Hellraiser: Judgment more of a standalone piece, mostly independent of those that preceded it. Tunnicliffe was successful in getting Judgment made, but it was shelved after Weinstein/Dimension came under fire, due to mass sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. Then, late last year Lionsgate picked up the rights to the film; finally releasing it to video earlier this month.
Hellraiser: Judgment follows three detectives, Sean Carter (Damon Carney), his brother David (Randy Wayne) and a newbie to the department, Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris) as they investigate a series of homicides. In doing so, the cops notice a pattern. All of these murders are linked to religion and sin. Whomever this killer is, they’re passing judgment on their victims, ala Se7en (1995) or Saw (2004). As the detectives go deeper into the case, Hell is unleashed. Before this case is solved, these detectives have such sights to be shown to them.
I have to commend Mr. Tunnicliffe, as I believe he achieved his goal here. With Hellraiser: Judgment, he managed to create something more in line with the first four films. At the same time, he also achieved creating a movie that can be a standalone film. Most importantly though, Judgement legitimate feels like it’s a Hellraiser movie. This is a nice change of pace, as the previous four installments were just flicks where Pinhead/The Hell Priest was shoved into camos that felt completely out of place. On that note, Pinhead is very well portrayed by Paul T. Taylor (Super). Sure, he’s not the OG Pinhead, Doug Bradley, nor does he need to be. This is because Taylor gives a very similar performance, so much so that I thought it was almost as good as Bradley’s. Beyond that, the Lead Cenobite’s new crew fits very well into this series. One might say nearly as well as a piece of The Lament Configuration puzzle box. The Auditor (also played by Tunnicliffe) has a function that I couldn’t believe no one had thought to employ in this world before. Then there’s The Assessor who’s portrayed by horror vet John Gulager. To say this character serves a disturbing and fitting function is an understatement.
The real issues with Hellraiser: Judgment are unfortunately everything that doesn’t involve Hell, its occupants, and their judgments. The human characters here are just stale and one-note. To the credit of the cast though, they are all giving it an effort. Of course, it doesn’t help when flat characterizations of humans are presented through a cinematographic lens that was soaked in piss and vinegar. Yes, like many modern of horror flicks, particularly those put out by Lionsgate, this one embraces that nasty green and yellow look. While this aesthetic does fit with the story well enough; I just found it unpleasant to look at it in all the wrong ways. I hope that if Tunnicliffe gets the go-ahead to do a sequel, he will do one thing. For the love of Heaven and Hell, please shoot it in the vein of the first three Hellraiser films. You know, dark and cold with a blue hue, resulting in morbid beauty.
Is Hellraiser: Judgment a great movie? No, it isn’t, but it is the best direct-to-video feature released in this series thus far. As a fan of this mythology, it was nice to see someone finally make a Hellraiser movie in which it seemed they cared for this universe. That alone means more effort was being put into this installment than there has been in a long time. If you’ve never seen a Hellraiser flick, this wouldn’t be a terrible one with which to start. However, I’d always recommend that you begin with the original film. Now, if you’re already a fan of this world, I think you’ll enjoy it well enough and recommend it to you. If you like it, great; because if this flick sells well, I’d imagine we’ll be treated to Tunnicliffe’s intended sequel. In closing, you open the box; they’ll come.
HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE OR RENTAL ON DIGITAL, BLU-RAY & DVD!